Solomonic monarchs, to be seyuma Egzi'abehér, 'Elect of God'.76 His reign has been associated indelibly with Ethiopia's grappling with modernity, a process in which he sought to act as a leader.77 Modernisation was a tool to transform Ethiopia, to overcome the weakness manifest by the country's inability effectively to resist Fascist invasion in 1935, and to make it truly a peer player in the international arena. Simultaneously, like his predecessors, he, too, held a vision of an Ethiopia in which Orthodox Christianity played a central role. He brought together modernisation, Orthodoxy and the Amharic language in the system of education, based on western models, which he put in place following his restoration in 1941.78 Modernisation and Orthodoxy were equally tools to support autocracy, for the emperor's vision of political power was the product of his upbringing at the court of his uncle Menilek and was based on his understanding of the Ethiopian past Thus, transformation of the church, like transformation of the country at large, was a process always subordinated to the interests of imperial rule.79
Between 1926 and 1959 the Ethiopian Church underwent an unprecedented transformation, which indigenised its leadership and elaborated its institutional capacities, but which left it as subject to political interference from the state as it had been in the beginning. Agitation for change started well before
76 The epithet 'Lion ofJudah', popularly applied to Haile Sellassie in foreign sources, rests on a fundamental misunderstanding of the slogan 'Mo'a anbassa za'emNagada Isra'el', 'The Lion of the Tribe ofJudah has prevailed', a reference to Revelations 5:5, which, as Sven Rubenson has shown, is a national motto, not a royal title: S. Rubenson, 'The Lion ofJudah, Christian symbol and/or imperial title', Journal of Ethiopian Studies 3 (1965), 7585. For misuse of the epithet see L. O. Mosley Haile Selassie: the conquering lion (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1964), and P. Schwab, Haile Selassie I: Ethiopia's Lion ofJudah (Chicago: Nelson-Hall, 1979). The emperor did nothing to discourage this usage, which began to creep into official documents.
77 See Bahru Zewde, A history of modern Ethiopia 1855-1991, second edition (Oxford, Athens, OH and Addis Ababa: James Currey, Ohio University Press and Addis Ababa University Press, 2001). For a general account of Haile Sellassie and the church, see Haile Mariam Larebo, 'The Ethiopian Orthodox Church and politics in the twentieth century: part 1', Northeast African Studies 9, 3 (1987), 1-17. Haile Sellassie's autobiography is in two volumes: Haile Selassie I: 1, My life and Ethiopia's progress 1892-1937, ed. and trans. E. Ullendorff (London: Oxford University Press, 1976); 11, My life and Ethiopia's progress, ed. H. G. Marcus with Ezekiel Gebissa and Tibebe Eshete (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1994).
78 Abebe Fissiha, 'Education and the formation ofthe modern state of Ethiopia, 1896-1974', unpublished PhD dissertation, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2000. The emperor's concern with education maybe seen in Selected speeches of His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie First 1918-1967 (Addis Ababa: Imperial Ethiopian Ministry of Information, 1967), of which Section 1 (pp. 1-87) is dedicated to the subject. See also, with reference to the pre-invasion years, H. G. Marcus, Haile Sellassie I: the formative years, 1892-1936 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987), 99, 137.
79 Bahru Zewde, 'Economic origins of the absolutist state in Ethiopia (1916-1935)', Journal of Ethiopian Studies 17 (1984), 1-29.
Was this article helpful?